I usually don’t like to speak ill of baseball managers who have multiple World Series rings, but at what point did Joe Torre go completely insane?
While watching Sunday’s WBC Pool D matchup of the USA and Canada, one couldn’t help but notice Torre, manager of the USA squad, calling for sacrifice bunts on four separate occasions. In the 2nd inning, with runners on first and second and nobody out in a 0-0 game, Torre called upon Adam Jones to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
That’s not a typo.
Jones, who is coming off a season in which he hit 32 home runs with an OPS of .839, and who has a total of 6 sacrifice bunts in his 7 years of big league experience, was instructed to give himself up in order to move the runners over. Here’s another piece of information: the starting pitcher for Canada, Jameson Taillon, has never pitched above the AA level of the minors, and was starting to struggle after allowing the first 2 batters to reach, one due to an error.
And yet, Torre thought the best course of action was to hand away an out and play for 1 run in the second inning, despite Jones being a superior hitter to the players behind him, Eric Hosmer, and Shane Victorino. Hosmer proceeded to hit a sharp grounder to third, where David Wright got caught in a run down and was tagged out, and Victorino grounded out to second to end the inning.
Fast forward to the 4th inning, when Canada has a 2-0 lead. Two batters reach for the Americans, bringing Ben Zobrist to the plate against Taillon, who is seemingly once again on the ropes. Zobrist had a terrific 2012 season with 20 home runs and an OPS of .848. Torre must have seen the 4 sac bunts Zobrist had laid down in the past 2 seasons and thought taking the bat out of his hands and giving up another free out would be a great idea. Fortunately for Team USA, the bunt was thrown away by Canada’s third baseman Taylor Green, which allowed one runner to score, and the other to move to 3rd base, where he was driven in by Jones in the next at bat on a sacrifice fly.
I can guarantee there were thousands of old school baseball guys watching the game saying, “SEE, I TOLD YOU BUNTS WORK!!”
While 2 runs did end up scoring in the inning, bunting there still seems like a bad idea, considering how solid Zobrist is at the plate, and considering the team was down 2 runs at the time. The biggest reason the runs ended up scoring was the fielding error. Giving up outs is rarely a good idea. A team is only given 27 outs per game, barring extra innings. That’s it. Executing bunt plays properly doesn’t earn a manager an extra one to burn later. The best way to score runs is to not make outs. It’s really that simple.
There were 2 more calls for sac bunts; one in the 7th from Victorino with 1 on, no outs, and one in the 8th with 2 on, and no outs. In the 7th, Victorino bunted 2 pitches foul, and ended up striking out. In the 8th inning, with the USA still down by one run, Joe Mauer hit a single, and Wright got a four-pitch walk, bringing Zobrist back up to the plate. Apparently Torre thought, “It worked last time, how about another sac bunt, Benny?” This time, however, Zobrist popped the bunt up to the catcher, making the first out of the inning. Luckily for Torre, Jones came up and drilled a 2-run double to CF (yes, the same Jones that was told to sacrifice bunt way back in the 2nd inning). After a Hosmer strikeout, Victorino got a single of his own, scoring Jones (yes, the same Victorino that was told to sacrifice bunt in the 7th inning). Who could have dreamed that a lineup full of All-Stars would be capable of driving in runners when you don’t take the bat out of their hands? It’s crazy, right?
Of course, none of these poor decisions came back to haunt Team USA, because Hosmer unleashed a picture-perfect swing in the top of the 9th inning, crushing a 3-run double to the CF wall, giving the team a 9-4 lead, with Craig Kimbrel coming in for the final 3 outs.
That brings me to the Royals. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, most of which were managed by Ned Yost, the team had a total of 100 sacrifice hits. For a team that has a very slim margin for error if they plan on competing for a division title, that is way too many outs to be giving away. This is especially true when you consider the Royals typically are a team with a below average – at best – on-base percentage. The hitters make enough outs on their own that they shouldn’t be doing so intentionally. In 2012, however, the Royals were 13th in the AL in sacrifice hits with 26. Hopefully that is more of an indication of what Yost would like this team to be. As further evidence of Yost’s possible transformation, earlier this offseason, he made comments about wanting the team to hit for more power.
Hopefully, Yost means what he says. Hopefully, he realizes he cannot lead this team to the playoffs playing small ball or playing for one-run innings. Particularly with several question marks in the rotation, this team needs to score runs, and score them in bunches. Having big innings is extremely tough to do when you’re handing the opponent a free out. When the leadoff man reaches base, sacrificing the next batter limits your odds of scoring a run.* There can be exceptions, but as a general rule, giving away outs is poor strategy.
I really do hope that Yost has truly come around to the idea of swinging away more than settling for bunts. Because the first time I see a sacrifice bunt in the first three innings of a game, not executed by a pitcher, I may suffer a psychotic break of my own.